Andrew Savino on seeming versus being in Scott Hutchins’s novel, A Working Theory of Love.
A father commits suicide. The son (and protagonist of A Working Theory of Love), Neill Bassett Jr., heads westward for San Francisco, looking to replace his duties as a scion of an old Southern family with progressive California living. However, the city does not offer Neill the golden fulfillment it so seductively promised from afar. Rather, his twenties leave him divorced and unsatisfied, bound to the banal routines of 21st-century bachelorhood. Desperately seeking a jolt out of the ordinary, Neill finds a second chance in a wine-brewing Italian scientist, the brilliant and ridiculous Henry Livorno. Livorno’s company, Amiante Systems, is attempting to beat the infamous “Turing test” and create the first “intelligent” computer. To defeat the test, Livorno’s team must develop a program that—30% of the time—can fool people into thinking it too is human. Livorno needs a voice; Neill needs a fresh start. To join the project, Neill Jr. offers his father’s legacy: 5,000 pages of diaries written by a physician over the course of 20-plus years. Along with an energy-drink-addicted tech genius named Laham, Livorno and Neill Jr. focus on beating the “Turing test,” providing a perfect opportunity for Neill to reevaluate his relationship with his father; to search for him in the depths of Amiante Systems’s newest program, named “Dr. Bassett,” after Neill’s father.
Throughout the novel, Neill explores the mind-body problem and the differences, if any, between seeming and being; his father seems to be there, on the other side of the computer screen, but is his father’s essence, his consciousness, truly present? If so, could Amiante’s technology allow humans to conquer death digitally, to live forever in (or as) machines?